Dear Book Lovers, Welcome! I am delighted that you have found The Through the Looking Glass blog. For over twenty years I reviewed children's literature titles for my online journal, which came out six times a year. Every book review written for that publication can be found on the Through the Looking Glass website (the link is below). I am now moving in a different direction, though the columns that I write are still book-centric. Instead of writing reviews, I'm offering you columns on topics that have been inspired by wonderful books that I have read. I tell you about the books in question, and describe how they have have impacted me. This may sound peculiar to some of you, but the books that I tend to choose are ones that resonate with me on some level. Therefore, when I read the last page and close the covers, I am not quite the same person that I was when first I started reading the book. The shift in my perspective might be miniscule, but it is still there. The books I am looking are both about adult and children's titles. Some of the children's titles will appeal to adults, while others will not. Some of the adult titles will appeal to younger readers, particularly those who are eager to expand their horizons.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of: Beast Feast

I used to be a very wordy writer. I could not for the life of me be concise, and sometimes I took ages to get to the point. I am less verbose now, but I still admire people who can say a lot without having to use reams of words. In this book Douglas Florian beautifully describes a collection of animals using very few words and I am in awe of his skill.

Beast Feast : PoemsBeast Feast
Douglas Florian
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Harcourt, 1994, 978-0-152-01737-8
Most of us tend to take a long time to say what we want to say. We don’t try to describe things in a concise way, and sometimes what we want to say or describe gets lost in the throng of words. In this collection, poet and illustrator, Douglas Florian, beautifully captures the nature or habits of twenty-one animals using very few words.
   Often the poems are amusing. For example in The Anteater we are told that this animal has a “long and tacky tongue,” which goes “snaking from its snout.” The anteater uses this tongue to snag termites, a thousand of which go “riding in” to the anteater’s mouth, but none come “riding out.”
   In the shortest of the poems Douglas Florian often tweaks the words he uses, and the result is clever and amusing. In The Rhea he tells us that this large bird is “rheally” strange. It is just like an ostrich that has been “rhearranged.”
   Sometimes the poem is told from the animal’s point of view, and sometimes the poet himself expresses an opinion. In The Pigeon, he admits that he does not “Love the pigeon” but he does “like it” because the bird has its own way of doing things. It bobs its head when it walks, and pigeons are brave creatures, who may even we willing to sit on one’s shoulder.
   There are some poems that tell us exactly what the animal in question is like. For example we learn that toads, the “squat and plump” relative of the frog, does not jump very often. It is a nocturnal creature that hunts during the night and that “hops into an earthy borrow” to nap until it is time to hunt again.

   With poems that amuse, intrigue, and inform, this is a collection that young readers will enjoy sharing with friends and family members.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of Hello, Mr. Hulot

It is not easy to tell a story using art when you only have a few pages to work with, and yet in this book the illustrator does this twenty-two times, giving readers little stories that are sweet, funny, and delightfully odd. It is a book that comic book fans will enjoy, and it is also a book that art lovers of all ages will find intriguing.

Hello Mr. HulotHello, Mr. Hulot
David Merveille
Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
NorthSouth, 2013, 978-0-7358-4135-2
In France a character called Mr. Hulot was created and played by a comic actor called Jacques Tati. Mr. Hulot featured in four films in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and he became hugely popular. Being a big fan of Mr. Hulot, David Merveille has created illustrations capturing twenty-two vignettes from the films. Comic book style artwork brings these almost wordless scenarios to life, giving readers a truly unique picture book experience.
   We begin with Mr. Hulot going into a souvenir shop in Paris. He buys a snow globe with a miniature Eiffel Tower inside. When he takes the globe outside and shakes it, it starts to snow, in real life! Snow also plays a big part in another vignette in the book. Mr. Hulot is walking down a snowy sidewalk when a boy throws a snowball at him. Mr. Hulot throws a snowball back, and he hits a man walking behind the boy. In no time the snowball fight escalates and soon the whole street is full of people happily throwing snowballs at one another.
   In The Umbrella Corner we see that Mr. Hulot is a kind man. Mr. Hulot is standing at a bus stop and it starts to rain. He puts up his umbrella and one by one birds fly in and land by his feet. They want to shelter from the rain too. When the bus arrives Mr. Hulot makes a decision and he leaves his umbrella lodged in a nearby tree so that his bird acquaintances have shelter from the rain.
   Each little pictorial story or vignette in this book is beautifully paced so that the dénouement always appears after a page is turned, thus keeping tension going until the end. There is a cinematographic flavor throughout the book that makes each story memorable and a good to look at.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Poetry Friday - A Review Of I’ve lost my hippopotamus

When I saw the title of today's poetry title I just had to smile. After all, can you imagine how it would be possible to lose a pet hippo? The title sets the tone for the whole book, which is full of poems that children will find irresistible.

I’ve lost my hippopotamus
I've Lost My HippopotamusJack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
HarperCollins, 2012, 978-0-06-201457-3
You only have to look online to see that many people find animal stories, pictures, and videos entertaining. People share these things using social media, and in just days everyone knows about the panda who got her head stuck in a box or the cat who stole the dog’s bed and refused to give it up. Animals doing funny things appeals to people, which is why this book will delight children and adults alike. It is full of funny animals, and funny people interacting with animals. Oh, and then there are the poems that are just about funny people who somehow manage to be funny even though there are no animals around.
   The first poem is about a girl who has lost her hippopotamus. It is hard to imagine how one could lose such an enormous animal, but this girl has managed it. The situation is so bizarre that she thinks that something is “fishy” and that some “unsavory subterfuge” is at play. What we know, thanks to the accompanying illustration, is that the girl’s hippo is not very far away at all.
   If you thought having a pet hippo was odd, then you should read the next poem. In this one you will meet someone who is wishing that the day would get more interesting. It has been a rather humdrum day so far, what with “fish in the treetops,” “owls underwater” and cows and elephants who are flying around. If this is a normal, boring sort of day, what would an interesting day in this world look like?
   Obviously, Jack Prelutsky has the gift for coming up with the most extraordinary ideas. Pet hippos and fish in trees are just a few of them. He has many more. For example, have you ever wondered what it would be like if pigeons weighed as much as pigs? No, neither have I, but Jack Prelutsky has. What should a person do if  pigeons weighed as much as pigs and “dragonflies were dragons,” and if caterpillars were as big as wagons and alley cats were as big as lions.
   Pig-sized pigeons are interesting, but going to a store to buy a dragon is surely even more so. In “Shopping at a dragon store,” the poet tells us all about a visit to a dragon store and how he tries to find a “very special kind of dragon,” the kind that he can take home.
   Some people have a gift for being amusing, for taking just a few lines of words and creating something that tickles people’s giggle spots. Jack Prelutsky is just such a person, and in this collection of more than one hundred poems, he gives readers more than one hundred reasons to smile. His poems are accompanied by line drawings that perfectly capture the essence of the poems, and that often contain a little joke of their own.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A review of Bluebird

It is always wonderful when you make a meaningful connection with someone new. When you are alone and sad such a connection is particularly powerful and perhaps even life-changing. In today's picture book, which is wordless, we see how a friendship between a friendly bird and a lonely little boy grows, and we also see how senseless cruelty can end something precious and beautiful.

Bob Staake
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Random House, 2013, 978-0-375-87037-8
In a grey city world there is a little boy who is friendless and lonely. At school many of the other children laugh at the little boy, which naturally hurts his feelings and makes him feel even lonelier. One day a little bluebird sits on the little boy’s classroom window sill. It watches the little boy and when he walks home at three o’clock it follows him. Then the bluebird tries to make friends with the little boy, and it even manages to make him smile.
   The little boy finds himself interacting with the bird, playing hide-and-seek with it, and then sharing his cookie with his charming little companion. When the other children ignore the little boy, the bird comes and sits on his shoulder, making the little boy feel special.
   In the park the little boy buys a toy boat and he and his new friend play with it, and the other children playing with their boats notice the little boy and the bird and respond to them in a friendly and welcoming way. Then the little boy goes into a wooded part of the park where he encounters a trio of bullies and his special afternoon with his new friend is spoiled.
   All too often in this world we are too busy or too indifferent to notice when people around us are unhappy. In this extraordinary worldless picture book Bob Staake explores a special relationship that a little bird offers a lonely child. We see how compassion and an offer of friendship can brighten someone’s life, and how cruel bullying and aggression is. Though the tale is touched with pain and loss, it also gives readers a bright message of hope.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Poetry Friday - A Review of Wolf and Dog

We have coyotes in the hills around my house, and many evenings we hear them yipping and yowling. Not long ago I wondered what they must think of the domesticated dogs that they encounter. Do they know that they are related to the dogs? Today's poetry title looks at the relationship that exists between a dog and his wild cousin, the wolf.

Wolf and DogWolf and Dog
Sylvia Vaden Heede
Illustrated by Marije Tolman
Translated by Bill Nagelkerke
For ages 7 to 10
Gecko Press, 2013, 978-1-877579-47-9
Wolf lives in the forest at the top of the hill and his cousin, Dog, lives in a house and sleeps in a basket every night. Wolf is a rather uncouth fellow who bites when he is hungry. He is hungry when he visits Dog, but Dog reminds him that they are cousins and that cousins don’t bite one another.
   Being a hospitable fellow, Dog cooks Wolf some bacon. Dog might be willing to eat lettuce, but Wolf wants meat, and lots of it. Wolf, being the kind of creature he is, snatches the bacon right out of the pan, leaving nothing for Dog.
   Wolf comes to call on another day, when the boss is gone again, and Dog tells him that he has a flea bothering him. He accuses Wolf of being the animal responsible for giving him the flea. Wolf, being a sly and sometimes unpleasant creature, turns the tables on Dog and demands that Dog return his flea. Dog gets scared when he sees his cousin’s teeth and hears his growl.  Wolf may be his cousin, but Wolf is wild and “can’t be tamed.” Dog has no choice but to threaten Wolf. If Wolf harms him, Dog will bark for his boss and Wolf would not like that to happen. At all. To avert what could turn into a nasty situation Wolf decides that he is going to give Dog his flea. Wolf was given the bacon to eat, and in return he has given Dog one of his fleas, of which he has many.
   In this delightful, often funny collection of story poems, the author tells nine stories about the interactions between Dog and Wolf. Sometimes the two animals are competing or trying to get the better of each other, and at other times they realize that they have more in common than they thought. There are even times when they get along and help one another out.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A Review of The Invisible Boy

Most of us have experienced times when we feel as if we are invisible, when the people around us don't seem to realize that we are even there. The alone and cut-off-from-the-world feeling is horrible. In this picture book the author looks at one little boy who is made to feel invisible, and who still manages to be generous to someone else.

The Invisible BoyThe invisible Boy
Trudy Ludwig
Illustrated by Patrice Barton
Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Random House, 2013, 978-1-582-46450-3
Brian is not really an invisible boy but he is so quiet and makes so little fuss in class, that it is almost as if he really is invisible. Mrs. Carlotti has her hands full dealing with Nathan, who shouts all the time, and Sophie, “who whines and complains” whenever she doesn’t get what she wants. Somehow Brian never gets picked when the children play kickball, and when one of the children has a birthday party, Brian isn’t invited.
   Then one day a new boy called Justin joins Brian’s class. At lunch Justin eats something called bulgogi with chopsticks and when he offers some to the other children they make fun of him and his strange Korean food. Brian wonders which is worse; being laughed at or feeling invisible.
  The next morning Justin finds a note waiting for him in his cubby. The note is from Brian and in it Brian says that he thinks Justin’s bulgogi “looked good.” One the note Brian even drew a little picture of himself eating bulgogi with chopsticks.
   In this wonderful picture book Trudy Ludwig shows young readers how painful it is to be the child who is always left out of everything. Her story is thoughtfully sensitive and she explores the idea that being kind to one another is simple to do, taking little effort, and yet it makes such a difference to someone who feels alone and lonely.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Poetry Friday - A review of: Nicola Bayley’s Book of Rhymes

I have looked at a lot of nursery rhyme books over the years. There have been pop-up versions, magic window versions, and even some board book editions. Today's poetry title has some of the richest and most beautiful illustrations that I have ever seen in a nursery rhyme book. The illustrations are so detailed that it is easy to lose track of time as you look through the book.

Nicola Bayley's Book of Nursery RhymesNicola Bayley’s Book of Rhymes
Illustrated by Nicola Bayley
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 4 to 6
Random House UK, 2013, 978-1-780-08038-3
 Nursery rhymes are wonderful because they bring poetry, and often little songs, into the lives of very young children. They also introduce children to little stories, such as the tale of poor Dumpty Dumpty, and they allow us to meet interesting characters such as Little Miss Muffet and Little Jack Horner.
   In this collection of nursery rhymes Nicola Bayley pairs her extraordinary artwork with twenty- two popular nursery rhymes. For every nursery poem she creates either a full page illustration or a series of small jewel-like vignettes. Every illustration is rich with color and extraordinary detail.  Some of the illustrations have lovely frames that give the artwork an added layer of richness. Children will have a wonderful time exploring the world of the Queen of Hearts, Simple Simon, and other nursery rhyme characters.
   This book first came out in 1992 and launched Nicola Bayley’s career as a children’s book illustrator.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Picture Book Monday - A Review of How to Train a Train

I have a confession to make. I am very fond of my car. She has a name, Lucy, and I am proud of her because she protected me when a semi truck winged us, and she bravely brought us all the way across the country when we moved to the west coast. She never wavered even though there was a cat in her cargo area who howled for the entire journey. Lucy is a valued member of the family.

In today's picture book you will meet a boy who tells us what we need to know if we want to add a train to our family. A pet train. It may sound strange, but don't knock it until you have tried it.

How to Train a TrainHow to train a train
Jason Carter Eaton
Illustrated by John Rocco
Picture book
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2013, 978-0-7636-6307-0
If you go to a bookshop you will probably find dozens of books about how to train dogs. There may even be a few titles about how you might train a cat. What you won’t find is a book that will help you to train you pet train. Why would a person want a pet train? The answer is simple: because “Trains make awesome pets – they’re fun, playful, and extremely useful.”
   The good news is that anyone who wants to have a pet train can now get a little help thanks to this book. Everything that you need to know to “choose, track, and train” your new pet train can be found on these pages.
   The first thing you need to do is to decide what kind of train you want. Are you interested in a freight train, or perhaps a monorail train is more suitable. Once you have made your choice, you have to catch the train you want. You could try cornering it or trapping it using a big net. The train expert featured in this book has his own tried-and-true method that may seem complicated, but he swears by it.
   When you get your train home you have to give it a name. Any name will do. Then you have to do what you can to make your train feel at home. It is only natural that the train will be a little anxious at first. A hot bath can calm your train down. Some trains like to be read to, while others respond well to “soft locomotion sounds.”
   It is not easy to find helpful how-to books, but thankfully the author and the illustrator of this book know a great deal about trains and their ways. With their help just about anyone can become a successful pet train owner. The wonderful illustrations beautifully show readers the joys of train ownership, and anyone who reads this book carefully will find themselves wishing that they had a pet train of their own.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Poetry Friday: A Review of If: A treasury of poems for almost every possibility

There are, alas, many people who don't realize that poems are wonderful things. They don't know that poems can be funny, thought-provoking and relevant to us, no matter who we are. Two women set out to prove to such people that poems are treasures to be enjoyed and savored, and this is the collection of poems that they put together.

Edited by Allie Esiri and Rachel Kelly
Illustrated by Natasha Law
For ages 6 and up
Cannongate Books, 2012, 978-0-85786-5571
Many people are under the impression that poetry has a limited appeal and a limited use in real life in the modern world. They believe that poems are for the classroom or occasionally one might read one aloud at a special event. In an effort to encourage children to “love, learn and even write poems,” the editors of this anthology created an app. The If Poems app gives children “poems to read or hear being read by well-known actors.” The IF Poems app was so successful that the editors ended up producing this remarkable anthology to compliment it.  Over the years people have written poems about all kinds of things and therefore there is a poem out there that is relevant to just about any situation. With this anthology in hand readers can dip into a selection of poems that will suit every mood and offer insights that are powerful or amusing.
   Growing up can be a painful process, one that is full of pitfalls, and many poets have written about this issue. This anthology begins by looking at poems about growing up. Some of them are amusing, such as Roger McGough’s The Leader. In this poem we meet someone who is eager to be a leader. When at last the coveted status is achieved the person wonders “OK what shall we do?” In Love Between Brothers and Sisters Isaac Watts encourages his readers to “let their anger cool” when they are upset with a sibling so that “Our hearts may all be love” when they “grow to riper age.”
   For those days when the world is looking dark and grim there are poems that focus upon Humor And Nonsense. Here you will find poems by Dr. Seuss, A.A. Milne, Roald Dahl, and others. Here you will encounter the words of Frog from Wind in the Willows, you will hear about Macavity the criminal cat, and you will learn all about the Jabberwocky, a creature with “eyes of flame,” sharp teeth and claws.
  If you are in the mood to hear a story, then the Tell Me a Tale poems will suit you to perfectly. The story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, the description of that famous visit Saint Nicholas makes on Christmas Eve, and many others story poems can be found in this section. Some of the tales are humorous, while others have a dark tone that might even give readers the shivers.
   Other sections in this anthology include Magic, Friendship and Love, and Lessons for Life. Readers of all ages will enjoy dipping into this book to savor poetry treasures.

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